(I wrote this opinion piece for my local newspaper last week and as of today I’m still getting hate mail. I’m a little confused to what ticked people off so badly. Oh sure, I knew it would tick some people off but just wow on the number of emails I’ve been getting.)
As a parent you scribble your name on a lot of stuff – everything from reading logs to band practice sheets. But one thing I won’t sign my name to is anything that has to do with volunteering or community service. I won’t sign a piece of a paper, a diary, a journal, a ledger – basically if it tracks and tallies up how many hours my kids spent doing “service” I’m not interested. It’s not because I don’t fully believe in giving back and I’m certainly not anti non-profit – my husband works for one. What I’m against is teaching our children that the act of being a decent human being is something you need to diligently record and be rewarded for.
This is the time of year when the school’s are sending reminders that your child’s community service logs will be due soon and to mark your calendar for the May award ceremony in the cafeteria. Now, I know the whole idea of encouraging kids to keep an account of their volunteer hours in an effort to educate them on the importance of giving back is not a bad idea. It’s just flawed because I believe we are teaching them the exact opposite. We, in our trophy happy, grabby-gifty, look at me world, are making a competition out of something that should be expected – to be a functioning member of society. There should be no rewards for that, no shout outs, no social media selfies. It should be muscle memory – something you always do.
Now community service from elementary to high school is, in some cases, a cut throat competition. Gone are the days when families, scout groups and religious organizations would quietly and without fanfare do volunteer work because, quite simply, it feels good. Now, it’s all about writing down every nanosecond you spend doing something for someone else because being a respectable carbon life form isn’t its own reward. Parents want their kids a have a chance to win a prize for it and what parents will do for their kids to win that prize is probably the exact opposite of what “giving back” is all about.
There are the kids who log down time for visiting their grandparents – at their beach house. Did you know putting your neighbors newspaper on their porch also counts as a community service? The best are the birthday parties where a child and 12 of their closest friends go to a non-profit to spend time volunteering. The mom includes on the invitation, right next to the RSVP, how many hours each child will get to write down on their service log sheet. There’s oodles of pictures Instagrammed and Facebooked from the mom about being “So proud of my daughter. This is how she choose to spend her birthday.” The kicker – the kids take a limo to the non-profit and then scurry out to have the “real party” at the American Girl doll store.
This competitive service mania has even evolved into a business. As your kid gets older there are “College Coaches” who will, for a fee, tell you how to massage your child’s “volunteer commitment” so it looks good on college applications? Currently starting a nonprofit is the “must have” for all students wishing to “set themselves apart from the regular volunteer majority.” All you need is a website. My son said he was going to start one called mymotherisannoying.org. His service hours would be listening to me complain and let me tell he’d have a lot hours to write down.
Now, I know, so please don’t send me emails with your child’s arduous community service listed and with a link to his/her very own non-profit, blog and “I Give Back” Powerpoint, that many, many kids take these hours very seriously. Awesome and bravo. But, I also have experienced volunteering at non profits and sighing when a group of high school kids come in to “get their hours” and they barely can go through the motions to help out.
Is this what we want to teach our kids that picking up a neighbor’s paper and kind of, sort moving around some boxes at a non-profit is what volunteering is all about? That it doesn’t matter if you really did anything as long as you showed up and any good deed over 30 minutes can be rounded up to an hour?
Nope, count me out on this. I’m not signing my name to that – ever.